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Memory and grace mark new class of Falls Hall of Fame Inductees

Menomonee Falls High School sports

Admittedly, school and Bob Kronenberg weren't always the most compatible mix.

But as a member of the most recent class of inductees into the Menomonee Falls Athletic Hall of Fame, he did remember many good things that happened during his time in high school: and they weren't all on the football field or on the track.

In fact, enough good things happened in the classroom that he was able to earn a hard-won diploma and begin a 20-year odyssey in football that still isn't done.

It has included small college All-American status, tours in the Canadian Football League (a member of their All-Rookie team 16 years ago) and NFL Europe (a two-position star). Currently, he is happily an area scout for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons (In the process, he has gotten to know the check-in counters at Marriott Hotels very well).

And he knows he wouldn't have gotten this far without help, a lot of it.

"It's an absolute thrill to see all of you again," he said at ceremonies in the school cafeteria on Sept. 18. "I have a seven-year old daughter now. The priority of my world, and I tell you if she can have the kind of support system (in school) that I had, it would mean so much to me."

"...It's 20 years after high school, and my best football memories are still those four years spent here. I had a very special opportunity while I was in the Falls. It's just a real thrill to be a part of all this."

Kronenberg's thoughts were echoed in one form or another by the other five inductees in the sixth annual class of the Athletic Hall of Fame.

"I'd like to thank the academy," chuckled track and basketball star Andreas Klotz at the opening of his remarks. "...Wow, I just see so many people who were my mentors. People who took me under their wing and taught me right from wrong. It makes me feel blessed."

"I'm here because of what I gave back to them (in terms of performance), but it's only because of what they gave back to me that I'm here. Thank you to everyone who ever put their time into me."

And appropriately enough, Klotz is returning the favor, putting his time into children as a coach at St. Mary's School in the Falls.

One of those people Klotz referred to, coaching nominee Ron Burling, also got his moment in the sun. He was not only the one who first told Klotz to throw a discus (Klotz would eventually make the Olympic Trials in the event), but  he also helped with Kronenberg and fellow inductee, basketball and baseball star Mike Ehler.

Burling is one of those happy warriors who doesn't seem to know when to quit. He spent long years as  the leader of the successful boys track program, was also a savvy football assistant and even spent time with boys gymnastics. He was coaxed out of retirement recently to help with the weightmen by his son Michael, who is now plowing through the paperwork that his father used to dread as head track coach.

Michael, who was in attendance at the event, happily gave his old football teammate Kronenberg a punch in the arm when Ron rose to give his speech.

It was short and to the point. Ron was ecstatic that so many of his children (three of them) also decided to enter the teaching and coaching ranks. One of them made a long trip up from the southern suburbs from a football game he was coaching and made it just in time to hear his father say how proud he was of all his kids.

Ron too, laid his honors right at the feet of those he thought had earned them.

"The athletes, they were the ones who got me where I am today," he said. "They and the support of my family and my wife, which I could never have gotten along without."

Ehler's humility echoed that of Burling's. He looked around the room and the plaques of the previous five classes of inductees and found himself amazed to be included among them.

"It is a special honor," he said. "To look at these people and see what they accomplished is amazing. I'm still an old Falls North guy, so I still bleed a little purple and white (the old school colors). I see people like Mr. Petroff (Athletic Director Dave Petroff) and know how much they meant to me. I remember my teammates and the good teams, the special teams that I was on. Very good teammates who made it fun to be a part of it all."

"Just like it's fun to be included in all this tonight."

The youngest and the oldest of the inductees knew that point well too.

For state champion and All-American swimmer Megan Grunert, who is currently working on her doctorate in chemistry, the 10 years between her high school graduation and this moment are just like a drop of iodine in a flask.

Here and then gone, but with a meaning that is not lost.

"I came home over the summer," she said, "and I grabbed a scrapbook full of old articles and stickers. And looking at our tie-dyed t-shirts and dyed hair, I can see that there was never going to be anything like high school ever again. Singing the songs, laughing on the bus."

"And then a few weeks after that, I get this letter, telling me that I was inducted. I looked at the newspaper and I realized that this was only the sixth class, the sixth year of the hall, and I'm in shock and awe to be included so early."

Terry and Lenny Ullsperger, Jr., who were there on behalf of their father, the late Leonard J. ("Lenny") Ullsperger, Sr., understood Grunert's intensity of memory, because in their large, extended family, memory is built in layers, one generation after another.

"Lenny" was a high school sports star in the 1930s, a strong advocate of the Land O' Lakes baseball program and a famous long-time sportswriter for the old Falls News. That would be enough to get almost anyone induction, but if he would have been around to speak for himself, he probably would have told everyone that he was getting in for his family's accomplishments as much as for anything he ever did.

A total of 11 Ullsperger children and grandchildren have lettered at various Falls High Schools and they are still not done.

"If my Dad were here tonight, he would have had a hard time saying anything because he probably would be crying, because so many of them (family) are here tonight," Terry said. "An emotional man, a kind man who really would have appreciated this very much."

"On behalf of him and the family, we're really grateful for all this."

That sentiment was unanimous this night.

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